71 episodes

New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie and freelance writer John Ganz delve into the world of 90s post-Cold War thrillers with Unclear and Present Danger, a podcast that explores America in an age of transition to lone superpower, at once triumphant and unsure of its role in the world.

Unclear and Present Danger Jamelle Bouie and John Ganz

    • TV & Film
    • 4.7 • 488 Ratings

New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie and freelance writer John Ganz delve into the world of 90s post-Cold War thrillers with Unclear and Present Danger, a podcast that explores America in an age of transition to lone superpower, at once triumphant and unsure of its role in the world.

    Chain Reaction

    Chain Reaction

    On this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, we watched the 1996 science fiction conspiracy action thriller Chain Reaction, directed by Andrew Davis — whose previous UnclearPod films are The Package, Under Siege and The Fugitive — and starring Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, Fred Ward, Kevin Dunn and Brian Cox.

    Chain Reaction revolves around a group of scientists at the University of Chicago who are working to convert hydrogen from water into clean energy. They find their breakthrough when their machinist, Eddie Kasalivich (played by Reeves), discovers the secret — a sound frequency that stabilizes the process. Later that evening, a group of mysterious assailants kill the lead scientist and destroy the laboratory. Kasalivich, who had returned to retrieve his motorcycle after escorting Dr. Lily Sinclair (Weisz) home, is the only witness.

    When the FBI arrives to investigate, they zero in on Kasalivich and Sinclair as their chief suspects, goaded along by the mysterious presence of advanced technology in Kasalivich’s apartment and evidence of espionage in Sinclair’s. With the help of Paul Shannon, the leader of the Chicago project, they escape the clutches of law enforcement only to find themselves fleeing the armed agents of a secretive industrial group.

    As Kasalivich and Sinclair race against time to uncover the mystery of the explosion, and clear their names of wrongdoing, they realize that their scientific breakthrough is a threat to some very powerful people, and that their friends aren’t who they seem to be.

    You can find Chain Reaction to watch on demand on HBO Max and also to rent or buy on Amazon and Apple TV.

    We’ll see you next in two weeks when an episode on Courage Under Fire, the 1996 legal drama directed by Edward Zwick and starring Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Lou Diamond Phillips and Matt Damon.

    • 1 hr 4 min
    A Time to Kill

    A Time to Kill

    On this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John watched “A Time to Kill,” Joel Schumacher’s 1996 adaptation of a 1989 John Grisham novel by the same name.

    Starring Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey, with supporting performances from Kevin Spacey, Oliver Platt, Charles S. Dutton, Ashley Judd, Donald Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland and Chris Cooper, “A Time to Kill” concerns the trial of Carl Lee Hailey, a black man on trial for capital murder after killing the two men who assaulted his 10-year-old daughter.

    When Jake Brigance, a white lawyer who previously defended Hailey’s brother, takes the job to keep Carl Lee out of the execution’s chamber, the small Mississippi town of Canton, where the film takes place, is plunged into chaos. Brigance and his team must navigate national attention, a skilled and ambitious prosecutor, and a revitalized Ku Klux Klan, willing, able and eager to derail the trail and stop Brigance by any means necessary. All the while, Brigance must handle the strain on his family and his marriage.

    The official tagline for “A Time to Kill” was: “A lawyer and his assistant fighting to save a father on trial for murder. A time to question what they believe. A time to doubt what they trust. And no time for mistakes.”

    You can find “A Time to Kill” to rent or buy on demand at iTunes and Amazon.

    For our next episode, we’re watching “Chain Reaction,” a science-fiction thriller directed by Andrew Davis and starring Morgan Freeman and Keanu Reeves.

    • 1 hr 6 min
    Johnny Mnemonic

    Johnny Mnemonic

    For this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, we watched “Johnny Mnemonic,” a 1995 cyberpunk action film directed by Robert Longo and adapted from a William Gibson short story of the same name, by Gibson himself. “Johnny Mnemonic” stars Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, Takeshi Kitano, Ice-T and Dina Meyer.

    In “Johnny Mnemonic,” Keanu Reeves plays Johnny, a “mnemonic courier” who transports sensitive data for corporations via storage implant in his brain. He takes a job that requires him to store too much memory, threatening his life if he can’t make the delivery as quickly as possible. While getting the data, his clients are attacked and killed by the yakuza. Johnny goes on the run, where he is betrayed by his handler, befriended by Jane, a cybernetically-enhanced bodyguard, and brought to the attention of the Lo-Teks, an anti-establishment group.

    They discover that the data Johnny holds is a stolen cure to a technological disease that afflicts much of the planet. The creator, a mega-corporation called Pharmakom, refuses to release the cure because they are profiting off of the treatments. As Johnny is hunted by hired assassins for Pharmakom, he and his allies fight to disseminate the cure and save Johnny’s life.

    • 1 hr
    Hackers (feat. Laura Hudson)

    Hackers (feat. Laura Hudson)

    On this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle, John and special guest Laura Hudson (formerly of Wired and The Verge) watched the 1995 cyber-thriller “Hackers,” directed by Ian Softley and starring Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens and Lorraine Bracco, with supporting roles for Matthew Lillard, Penn Jillette, Wendell Pierce, Marc Anthony and Felicity Huffman.

    “Hackers” centers on Dade Murphy, alias “Zero Cool,” who made hacking history 7 years before the events of the film when he crashed 1,507 computer systems and was banned from owning or operating computers and touch-tone telephones until his 18th birthday.

    On his 18th birthday, he finds himself living in New York with his mother and attending a new high school, where he falls into a crowd of teen hacker. There’s Ramon, the Phantom Phreak. Emmanuel “Cereal Killer” Goldstein, Paul “Lord Nikon” Cook and Kate “Acid Burn” Libby, Dade’s hacking rival and romantic interest.

    One night, one of the youngest hackers in the group, Joey, breaks into a supercomputer owned by a large energy company. He is noticed and arrested by the US Secret Service, which is working with the company’s security officer. Unbeknownst to the Secret Service or anyone else for that matter, the security officer — Eugene “The Plague” Belford — has essentially orchestrated a scheme in which Joey and other hackers are to be blamed for a virus he created, whose purpose is to extort millions from the company into a private account.

    Thus begins a race: Belford is desperate to get the only evidence of the virus, downloaded by Joey before he was arrested, and our teen hacker heroes are trying to clear their names and get to the bottom of this conspiracy.

    The tagline for “Hackers” was, of course, “Hack the planet!”

    • 1 hr 18 min


    In this week’s episode of the Patreon we discussed Sidney Lumet’s heady Cold War thriller Fail Safe, based on a novel of the same name by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, published in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Fail Safe stars Henry Fonda, Dan O’Herlihy, Walter Matthau, Frank Overton and Larry Hagman with cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld.

    The story moves between three characters: U.S Air Force General Black who has been having a recurring dream in which a Spanish matador kills a bull before a cheering crowd, Dr. Groeteschele, a hard-line anti-communist and political scientist who believes it is possible to fight a limited nuclear war, and the President of the United States.

    When a computer error causes a U.S. bomber group to erroneously receive valid orders for a nuclear strike on Moscow — and Soviet countermeasures jam U.S. radio communications, preventing Strategic Air Command from rescinding the command — General Black, the president, the Pentagon and eventually Soviet command scrambles to prevent a full scale nuclear exchange.

    Working together, they manage to stop some of the bombers, but one fateful aircraft makes it through Soviet defenses to release its weapon. Faced with the unimaginable, the president and General Black decide to make a compensatory sacrifice, in the hopes of avoiding war.

    The tagline for Fail Safe was “It will have you sitting on the brink of eternity!”

    To listen to the whole episode, subscribe to the Patreon at patreon.com/unclearpod.

    The Rock

    The Rock

    For this week’s episode of the podcast, we watched Michael Bay’s weirdly prescient action thriller, “The Rock,” released in 1996 and starring Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn and William Forsythe. The supporting cast is also chock full of compelling character actors, including John Spencer, Philip Baker Hall, John C. McKinley, Tony Todd and Bokeem Woodbine.

    In “The Rock,” Ed Harris plays General Francis Hummel, a disillusioned Vietnam War vet who is angry with the American government for abandoning its soldiers to die behind enemy lines with little to no recognition or compensation. To get his revenge, and to get compensation for his men and their families, he leads his force of rogue Marines in a raid on a naval weapons depot, where they steal a stockpile of VX gas-loaded rockets. They then seize control of Alcatraz Island, off the coast of San Francisco, and hold the area hostage. Either the U.S. government pays him $100 million from a military slush fund, or he launches the rockets, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

    To disarm the rockets and stop Hummel, the Pentagon and the FBI organize a joint-task force of Navy Seals, special agents and a former convict at Alcatraz. Nic Cage plays FBI agent Stanley Goodspeed, a chemical weapons expert asked with identifying and disarming the weapons. Sean Connery plays John Patrick Mason, a former MI6 officer and current maximum security inmate who was the only person to successfully escape from Alcatraz. The FBI has brought Mason out of prison to aid the mission.

    The team successfully infiltrates Alcatraz, but then the plan falls apart. The Seals are killed, and Goodspeed and Mason are left trapped in Alcatraz. Their only hope of escape, and survival, is to complete the mission before an airstrike — ordered as a last resort — destroys the island and everyone on it.

    The tagline for “The Rock” was “Alcatraz. Only one man has ever broken out. Now five million lives depend on two men breaking in.”

    You can find “The Rock” to rent or buy on demand on iTunes and Amazon.

    Our next episode will be on the 1995 film “Hackers.”

    • 1 hr 14 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
488 Ratings

488 Ratings

Raff2534 ,

Great Podcast!

Very Insightful Podcast! Love the hosts and the format works very well!

Wish List:
Mad City- 97
Enemy of the State- 98

Love all the choices so far though!

BruinsBeat ,

The Presidents Third Podcast Option

It's more than just nostalgia – it's a covert operation!

guccimaneisthegoat ,


The New York Times is Zionist trash

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